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2002 - R - 101 Mins.
Director: David Jacobson
Producer: Larry Rattner
Written By: David Jacobson
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Kay
Review by: David Rolston

Looking for mister goodbar
After reading “A Father’s’ story” by Lionel Dahmer, father of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, writer director David Jacobson felt he had found a story amidst the sordid tabloid details of Dahmer’s inhuman depravity. The resulting film “Dahmer” is a ponderously earnest exploration of the life and crimes of Milwaukee’s most infamous killer, which avoids the sensational aspects of the story in favor of a meditation on the incidents that lead to the emergence of Dahmer’s pathology and psychosis.

Jeremy Renner gives a focused patient slow burn performance in the title role. Renner portrays Dahmer as a tortured chameleon, who seems resigned to his fate having tried and failed to reconcile his homosexuality and yearning for intimacy with the powder keg combination of low self-esteem and self loathing amidst overwhelming feelings of loneliness and isolation. Renner’s performance is complemented by a committed supporting cast who all contribute to the general feeling of pathos and impending tragedy.

Unfortunately Dahmer is very slow to unfold, and encumbered by Jacobson’s decision to mix up the chronological order of events to the degree that the film is nearly over before it manages to attain even a measure of the emotional and psychological depth to which it clearly aspires. The best sequences in Dahmer are those that are played straight, including a sequence which depicts Jeffrey’s first forays into the world of the Milwaukee gay bars, where we see his addictive preference for incapacitating potential sexual partners.

It is not until the final third of the film that Dahmer begins to shed the lugubrious weight of it’s clunky narrative manipulations, and allows Renner to reveal the man behind the monster in a scene that pairs him with Artel Kayaru. Kayaru brings vibrancy to the role of Rodney, a streetwise black teen, who tolerates Dahmer’s clumsy attempts to seduce him in a scene that manages to be both horrific and poignant.

Although its origins can be traced to Lionel Dahmer’s memoir, Dahmer does little to illuminate the relationship between Jeffrey and Lionel, except in one heart wrenching scene where Jeffrey has called his father during an alcoholic binge brought on in the aftermath of having committed his first murder. Finding Jeffrey asleep on the sofa surrounded by empty alcohol bottles a bewildered Lionel, with no idea what has transpired, schedules Jeffrey for an appointment with an alcoholism counselor. On the journey to the office, the son lashes out at his father, accusing him of turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the source of his real problems in a moment that speaks volumes about the Jeffrey’s feelings of isolation and shame, and the problems fathers and sons often have in bridging communication gaps in any meaningful way.

Moments like these validate Jacobson’s approach to the material. Despite these virtues, Dahmer requires a level of patience that few will be willing to surrender.
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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